Arrow-right Camera

Manuscript Museum A Hidden Gem Near Downtown Tacoma

One of Tacoma’s best visitor attractions is about the loneliest place on the Northwest tourist trail.

“We are like a secret,” says David Shawver, director of the Karpeles Manuscript Library Museum.

The museum is a repository of rare documents - ranging from letters signed by presidents and popes to scores by Mozart and Beethoven.

There is no admission charge. And donations are not requested.

Few travelers - and few area residents - even know about this unusual museum.

“But once they do find us, they tell us what a treasure this is,” Shawver says.

There are seven such Karpeles (CAR-pull-us) museums around the country, all in medium-size cities.

Others are in Santa Barbara and Montecito, Calif.; Jacksonville, Fla.; Duluth, Minn.; Charleston, S.C.; and Buffalo, N.Y.

Exhibits are rotated among the museums every three months.

The sponsor is David Karpeles, a California real-estate investor, who may hold the world’s largest collection of original historical documents.

Among Karpeles’ one million or so noteworthy manuscripts are such gems as a letter written by George Washington from Valley Forge during the Revolutionary War, pages from Mozart’s “Marriage of Figaro,” Darwin’s “Theory of Evolution,” an amendment to the Emancipation Proclamation signed by President Abraham Lincoln, Mendelssohn’s “Wedding March,” and works by Napoleon, Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison and Galileo.

Civil War manuscripts are being featured presently at the Tacoma museum.

Among the Civil War items on display are a letter signed by Jefferson Davis regarding formation of the Confederacy.

There is also a letter written from prison by John Brown, the abolitionist, shortly before he was hanged, and a reproduction of the lyrics of the “Battle Hymn of the Republic.”

The Karpeles collection also includes the original manuscript of Katharine Lee Bates’s patriotic poem of 1893 that became the lyrics for “America the Beautiful.”

“It stops me in my tracks every time I hold one of these documents,” says Thomas M. Jutilla, assistant director of the Tacoma museum. “This is a very special place.”

And, so far, uncrowded.